Ron Johnson is the new J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) chief executive officer, taking the reins of the iconic retailer Nov. 1. And if his recent comments to analysts are any indication, the new CEO is looking to draw heavily on the big ideas from his days at tech icon Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) to breathe new life in to the struggling department store.
You might think iPhones have little to do with selling housewares. But to hear Johnson tell it, it’s all about the mind-set and how a company approaches its customers. In a conference call, there were plenty of distinctively Apple-esque phrases used — “re-imagine,” “think differently” and “work creatively” to name a few.
Of course, judging by J.C. Penney’s significant fiscal third-quarter loss, some innovation might be sorely overdue. Outlet store closures, early retirement plans and other restructuring resulted in big one-time expenses — but even without those charges, a 5% sales decline shows J.C. Penney has plenty of other bad news.
And let’s not forget that while JCP stock has stabilized, it hardly is on a growth curve. JCP shares are off an ugly 60% in the past five years.
But Johnson — the former retail chief of Apple Inc. who helped preside over iPhone launches at Apple stores nationwide — remains focused on the potential of the company and the power of connecting with consumers.
“I get more excited every day about the potential of J.C. Penney,” he said.
A glass-half-full attitude is refreshing, and the enthusiasm Johnson exudes undoubtedly will help with morale — at least in the short term. After all, it appears J.C. Penney has no where to go but up.
The retailer has been locked in a battle with retail rivals Macy’s (NYSE:M) and Kohl’s Corp (NYSE:KSS) but can’t seem to get a leg up. Macy’s set the tone this earnings season with strong numbers and continued success with its effort to localize stores despite its massive footprint. Meanwhile, Kohl’s saw success of its own thanks to exclusive product lines and big brand names.
J.C. Penney hasn’t had much success, in large part because it can’t figure out how to reinvent itself to connect with consumers with much less to spend.
Johnson hopes to change all that as CEO. He sees the changes others have made to carve out unique roles in the retail space, and he knows J.C. Penney has to follow suit or get lost in the shuffle.